- Tropical Storm Ian has been upgraded to a ‘large and powerful’ Category 1 hurricane by the National Hurricane Center
- Authorities in Cuba have suspended classes and will begin evacuations on Monday as Ian is set to hit a Category 3 strength or above
- Officials in Florida have also declared a state emergency over the strengthening storm, warning residents to stock up on radios and supplies
- Stores have started to run out of water and other basic supplies as many stockpile ahead of the storm hitting – including planks of plywood to board their windows up
Tampa is bracing for its worst hurricane in over 100 years as Ian bares down on Florida before bringing 15ft waves and 135mph winds.
Terrified Floridians have started desperately digging huge trenches to direct flood water while others have stripped shelves bare of water and essentials.
Stark pictures and videos from across the state show prolonged queues at checkouts as locals stocked up and prepare to bunker down ahead of the monster weather front.
Ian strengthened from a tropical storm to a Category 1 hurricane overnight Sunday, but it is feared it will warp into a major Category 4 this week – hitting Florida on Wednesday night or Thursday morning after battering Cuba.
It is expected to be the worst hurricane Tampa has seen since 1921, when 115mph winds battered the coast city and left a trail of devastation.
Huge swathes of the area was submerged under 10ft of water from the deadly surge, with breaking waves ripping apart buildings and killing eight people.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared an emergency across the entire state and its 67 counties on Saturday afternoon in a sign of how concerned officials are.
People in Havana, Cuba are queuing for bread to stock up on bare essentials while waiting for Hurricane Ian to hit, as fisherman prepare to move their boats from a canal.
They have been loading up on planks of plywood to board their windows up. Many have been left empty handed after others stock piles the basic’s such as water, with one woman telling CBS ‘I tried to get water, but it’s no more. not too much at this moment.’
People have been desperate to fill up on gas, causing huge queues at many stations as others are preparing by sandbagging roads outside their properties in an attempt to limit the damage.
Some residents in Florida are being forced to queue for more than two hours to get sandbags ahead of the storm hitting.
Tampa, Miami, Cape Coral and Orlando are all seeing an increase in congestion higher than usual for this time of year, which could indicate more people are fleeing the state or are using their time to stock up on essentials.
DeSantis also waived weight restrictions for trucks carrying essential goods, with 2 million meals and a million gallons of water standing by ready to be distributed.
Jose Lugo told WFTV he knows what can happen if the worst hits and has been preparing by filling up bags of sand alongside other community members in Orange County.
He said: ‘It’s better to be prepared than sorry later, I was in Puerto Rico visiting my parents a couple days before Fiona hit.
‘I was helping them out, and now I’m here helping myself and everybody else.’
Some areas in Tampa are having to show proof of residency to gain access to the sandbags, with a 10-bag limit per house.
Tampa’s Mayor, Jane Castor, said that they are ‘preparing for the worst and hoping for the best’ when it comes to preparing for the hurricane.
Authorities in Cuba suspended classes in the Pinar del Rio province on Sunday and said they will begin evacuations on Monday as Ian was forecast to strengthen before reaching the western part of the island on its way to Florida.
A hurricane warning was in effect for Grand Cayman and the Cuban provinces of Isla de Juventud, Pinar del Rio and Artemisa.
The US National Hurricane Centre said Ian should reach the far-western part of Cuba late on Monday or early on Tuesday, hitting near the country’s tobacco fields.
At 5am on Monday, Ian was moving north west at 13mph, about 90 miles south west of Grand Cayman, and had maximum sustained winds of 75mph.
Director of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, Kevin Guthrie said ‘everyone in Florida is going to feel the impacts of the storm.’
A major concern is how quickly the storm can intensify, stressed Jason Dunion, director of NOAA’s hurricane research field program.
He said: ‘The storm can increase in speed 35 miles per hour in one day. You can go from a tropical storm to a Category 1, or Category 1 to a Category 3 in just that 24-hour period.
‘That makes it especially important for folks to pay attention to this storm the next couple of days.’
DeSantis activated the National Guard on Sunday morning, saying though the path of the storm is still uncertain, the impacts will be broadly felt throughout the state.
State and federal disaster declarations were made over the weekend, with one model projecting Ian to make landfall in the Tampa Bay region while another model is projecting landfall into the Panhandle.
DeSantis said: ‘We’re going to keep monitoring the track of this storm. But it really is important to stress the degree of uncertainty that still exists.
He added: ‘If you’re not necessarily right in the eye of the path of the storm, there’s going to be pretty broad impacts throughout the state’.
A tropical storm watch has been put in place over the lower Florida Keys on Sunday evening and has advised Floridians to have hurricane plans in place and monitor updates of the storm’s evolving path.
US President Joe Biden also declared an emergency, authorising the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to co-ordinate disaster relief and provide assistance to protect lives and property.
The President postponed a scheduled September 27 trip to Florida because of the storm, with White House officials confirming they are ‘closely monitoring’ the situation.
An official said that the president approved the emergency assistance request ‘as soon as he received it’.
They added: ‘He also directed his team to surge Federal assistance to the region well before landfall. FEMA has already deployed staff there and pre-positioned food, water, and generators.’
John Cangialosi, a senior hurricane specialist at the Miami-based centre, said in an interview on Sunday that it is not clear exactly where Ian will hit hardest in Florida.
Residents should begin preparations, including gathering supplies for potential power outages, he said.
Mr Cangialosi said: ‘It’s a hard thing to say stay tuned, but that’s the right message right now.
‘But for those in Florida, it’s still time to prepare. I’m not telling you to put up your shutters yet or do anything like that, but it’s still time to get your supplies.’